Bash Coprocesses: The Secret to Streamlined Background Tasks

Bash, the powerful command-line interface for Linux and Unix systems, offers a sophisticated feature called coprocesses. This enables seamless communication with background processes, making your scripts more efficient and responsive. Let’s unravel the mysteries of coprocesses and how they can elevate your Bash scripting.

What are Coprocesses?

Think of a coprocess as a persistent background process that you can interact with like a filter. You can send data to it (like a pipe) and read its output, all while your main script continues to run.

Why Use Coprocesses?

  • Efficiency: Avoid the overhead of repeatedly starting and stopping processes.
  • Real-time Interaction: Communicate with long-running tasks as they progress.
  • Concurrency: Perform multiple operations simultaneously.

Creating Coprocesses

Bash provides the coproc command for starting a coprocess. The syntax is:

coproc [name] command [arguments]
  • name (optional): A variable to store the coprocess information.
  • command: The command to run as a coprocess.

Interacting with Coprocesses

When you start a coprocess, Bash creates an array named COPROC to hold the file descriptors for communication:

  • COPROC[0]: File descriptor for reading the coprocess’s output.
  • COPROC[1]: File descriptor for writing input to the coprocess.

Example: Uppercase to Lowercase Conversion


# Script:
while read -r line; do
  declare -l lowercase="$line"
  echo "$lowercase"

coproc my_translate ./

echo "HELLO, WORLD!" >& "${COPROC[1]}"
cat <& "${COPROC[0]}" 


hello, world!

Explanation: The example script creates a coprocess called my_translate that runs the script. The script converts uppercase letters to lowercase. The main script sends the string “HELLO, WORLD!” to the coprocess, which converts it to lowercase and sends it back. The main script then prints the output to the terminal.

Example: Named Coprocesses

coproc MYPROC { 

cat unsorted_data.txt >& "${MYPROC[1]}"
cat <& "${MYPROC[0]}" > sorted_data.txt

This example sorts the contents of unsorted_data.txt and saves the result in sorted_data.txt.

Example: Real-Time Log Monitoring

coproc TAIL { tail -f /var/log/syslog; }

while read -r line <& "${TAIL[0]}"; do
  if [[ $line =~ "error" ]]; then
    echo "Error detected: $line"

Key Points and Caveats

  • File Descriptors: Remember to use file descriptors to redirect input and output to the coprocess.
  • Cleanup: When done, terminate the coprocess to free resources (e.g., kill $COPROC_PID).
  • Complexity: Coprocesses are powerful, but they can add complexity to your scripts, so use them judiciously.

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